Monthly Archives: October 2013

Science-inspired Hallowe’en costumes (thank you to Dean Burnett)

I do enjoy Dean Burnett’s posts on his Brainflapping blog (one of the Guardian science blogs) and his Oct. 31, 2013 posting is no exception (Note: A link has been removed),

Halloween is upon us. But what if you’re someone who has dedicated their life to science? Halloween typically means dressing up as something “scary”, and almost everyone interprets this as something with supernatural, paranormal or just flat-out impossible origins. So what is a rational scientist type, who lives in the real world and doesn’t believe in anything without empirical evidence, to do? You want to join in the scary fun, but can’t be seen to encourage unscientific things.

Don’t worry though; there are still plenty of things from the world of science that you can dress up as that are fun, interesting and genuinely terrifying as they really are out there.

Burnett’s suggestions including dressing up as MRSA, (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), Entropy, Cotard Delusion (someone who thinks they are dead), Peer Review, Transhumanism, and more. He even gives costume suggestions.

Let’s give this a Canadian twist, shall we?

  • a Canadian communications officer for a government science agency (costume suggestion: a giant cone scrawled with excuses for refusing to release information about research,, e.g., we don’t want to offend anyone particularly anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office so it’s best not to say anything at all; the Canadian public will misunderstand the phrase ‘fewer fish’ they’ll think that means we have fewer fish; etc.)
  • Canadian bureaucrats advising entrepreneurs on how to commercialize science (costume suggestion: casual dress such as shorts, jeans, sandals, pocket protectors, polo shirts, etc. worn as camouflage over standard business dress including a briefcase filled with unfathomable forms that have to filled out in triplicate)
  • NCC (nanocrystalline cellulose)  stockpile (costume suggestion: it’s all nanoscale, so you don’t have to dress up as you have nowhere to go) This costume cuts down on your socializing and trick-or-treating options but it could be perfect for some folks.

If you have you any suggestions for Canadian science costumes that inspire horror, please do feel free to add them in the comments.

Physics and coral skeletons at the nanoscale

Given that today, Oct. 31, 2013, is Hallowe’en, it seems thematically appropriate to be talking about skeletons, in this case, coral skieleton. An Oct. 29, 2013, news item on Nanowerk profiles the research (Note: A link has been removed),

An international team of scientists, led by physicists from the University of York, has shed important new light on coral skeleton formation.

Their investigations (“Microstructural evolution and nanoscale crystallography in scleractinian coral spherulites”), carried out at the nanoscale, provide valuable new information for scientists and environmentalists working to protect and conserve coral from the threats of acidification and rising water temperatures.

The Oct. 29, 2013 University of York (UK) news release, which originated the news item, describes coral and what the scientists were looking for,

As corals grow, they produce limestone – calcium carbonate – skeletons which build up over time into vast reefs. The skeleton’s role is to help the coral’s upper living biofilm to move towards the light and nutrients.

Understanding the calcification mechanism by which these skeletons are formed is becoming increasingly important due to the potential impact of climate change on this process.

The scientists looked at the smallest building blocks that can be identified – a microstructure called spherulites – by making a thin cross-section less than 100 nanometres in thickness of a skeleton crystal. They then used Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) to analyse the crystals in minute detail.

The TEM micrographs revealed three distinct regions: randomly orientated granular, porous nanocrystals; partly oriented nanocrystals which were also granular and porous; and densely packed aligned large needle-like crystals.

These different regions could be directly correlated to times of the day – at sunset, granular and porous crystals are formed, but as night falls, the calcification process slows down and there is a switch to long aligned needles.

“It has been suspected for some time that the contrast bands seen in crystals in optical images were daily bands. Through our research we have been able to show what the crystals actually contain and the differences between day and night crystals.” [said corresponding author Renée van de Locht,]

I know coral is important but I didn’t know why (from the news release),

Corresponding author Renée van de Locht, a final-year PhD student with the Department of Physics at the University of York, says, “Coral plays a vital role in a variety of eco-systems and supports around 25 per cent of all marine species. In addition, it protects coastlines from wave erosion and plays a key role in the fisheries and tourism industries. However, the fundamental principles of coral’s skeleton formation are still not fully understood.

While the researchers are concerned about climate change and ocean acidification, there are other agendas being pursued as well (from the news release),

The York researchers are now turning their attention to looking directly at the effects of acidification. Their latest research is looking at five-day old coral larvae and compares a population from a normal seawater environment with another in an acidic environment.

The aim is to investigate the nanoscale impacts of the different environments at an early growth stage to assess how these could affect the whole colony and the bigger reef.

The coral research at York is also part of a much larger project looking at the hard and soft matter interface called the MIB – Interface between Materials and Biology – project. Nature has created materials that combine mineral (hard) and organic (soft) components in a way that provides properties that are extremely well suited to function – for example in bone, egg or mollusc shells. The collaborative project aims to develop a working understanding of how this control is worked out in natural systems, so that the same techniques can be used to develop new materials with specially tailored properties.

Here’s a citation for and a link to the published research paper,

Microstructural evolution and nanoscale crystallography in scleractinian coral spherulites by Renée van de Locht, Andreas Verch, Martin Saunders, Delphine Dissard, Tim Rixen, Aurélie Moya, and Roland Kröger. Journal of Structural Biology, Volume 183, Issue 1, July 2013, Pages 57–65 DOI:10.1016/j.jsb.2013.05.005

The paper is behind a paywall which includes a rental option, as well as, the option of paying for the paper outright. You can also try accessing the paper here at ResearchGate which requires that you register for a free account.

Israeli start-up Melodea and its nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) projects

Three European nanocrystalline cellulose-oriented(NCC) research project grants have been awarded to Israeli start-up company, Melodea according to an Oct. 31, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Israeli startup Melodea Ltd., a leading provider of bio based Nano technology to produce foams from renewable resources, was granted 3 European research grants for 3 groundbreaking projects. Melodea’s technology is based on Nano Crystalline Cellulose (NCC), a primary building block of all living plants that was discovered years ago and was shown to be a most promising raw material for the development of high quality, economically attractive bio-based alternatives to fossil oil polymers.

The Oct. 2013 (?) Melodea news release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the company and the projects,

Melodea Ltd. is developing an economic ally viable industrial process for the extraction of NCC from the sludge of the paper industry, a waste stream produced at millions of tons around the world. The core of the novel technology was developed by the lab of Professor Oded Shoseyov from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was licensed exclusively to Melodea.

Moreover, the company develops unique technologies to self-assemble the NCC into ecologically friendly foams for industrial applications.

Melodea Ltd. announced today that it has been awarded above 1,000,000 Euro in 3 projects of the European Union Seventh Framework Program (FP7).

The first project BRIMEE aims to develop insulating boards to attach to the exterior and interior of old buildings walls to improve insulation and reduce energy consumption.

Melodea’s ground breaking NCC foams will be the major constituent of such insulating boards.

The second project NCC-Foam aims to develop commercially-viable, lightweight, rigid foam core materials for sandwich structures for the composite industry.

Today, the common foams for composites are mostly manufactured from a variety of synthetic fossil-oil based polymers that have negative environmental effects compared to NCC based foam which is fully renewable produced from waste stream of the pulp and paper industry.

The third project FLHEA objective is to develop renewable and recyclable food packaging materials based on natural fibers such as flax and hemp. In FLHEA Melodea will produce flax based NCC that will be used as strengthening agent for the novel bio-based packaging materials.”

It is an outstanding achievement for Melodea to be awarded 3 European research grants with exciting European partners. These grants prove the EU commitment to support the development of Nano cellulose applications” said Melodea’s CEO Mr. Yoram Shkedi, “It will also allow Melodea to develop and to commercialize NanoCrystalline Cellulose (NCC) based applications for huge industries such as the construction, composites and food packaging industries”.

I notice they’re calling it nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) not cellulose nanocrystals (CNC). I wish somebody would pick a name and stick with it as this extra keyboarding gets tiresome. Apparently, Canadians coined the term, NCC while the CNC term originated elsewhere (I don’t know where). Until now, it seemed CNC was becoming the preferred terminology.

If I’m interpreting this part of the news release correctly “… developing an economic ally viable industrial process for the extraction of NCC from the sludge of the paper industry”,, Melodea will either develop a production facility or be instrumental in its creation while working on projects that utilize NCC in industrial applications. All of which leads me to the Canadian stockpile of NCC. As of Aug. 2013, CelluForce, a Canadian NCC production facility, had ceased production due to its stockpile as noted in my Oct. 3, 2013 posting. Hopefully there will be news of some commercialization project(s) that require serious amounts of  NCC from CelluForce.

For those who like to dig deeper, I found websites for the three projects, BRIMEE, NCC Foam, and FLHEA, mentioned in the Melodea news release.

Journal of Responsible Innovation is launched and there’s a nanotechnology connection

According to an Oct. 30, 2013 news release from the Taylor & Francis Group, there’s a new journal being launched, which is good news for anyone looking to get their research or creative work (which retains scholarly integrity) published in a journal focused on emerging technologies and innovation,

Journal of Responsible Innovation will focus on intersections of ethics, societal outcomes, and new technologies: New to Routledge for 2014 [Note: Routledge is a Taylor & Francis Group brand]

Scholars and practitioners in the emerging interdisciplinary field known as “responsible innovation” now have a new place to publish their work. The Journal of Responsible Innovation (JRI) will offer an opportunity to articulate, strengthen, and critique perspectives about the role of responsibility in the research and development process. JRI will also provide a forum for discussions of ethical, social and governance issues that arise in a society that places a great emphasis on innovation.

Professor David Guston, director of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University and co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, is the journal’s founding editor-in-chief. [emphasis mine] The Journal will publish three issues each year, beginning in early 2014.

“Responsible innovation isn’t necessarily a new concept, but a research community is forming and we’re starting to get real traction in the policy world,” says Guston. “It is our hope that the journal will help solidify what responsible innovation can mean in both academic and industrial laboratories as well as in governments.”

“Taylor & Francis have been working with the scholarly community for over two centuries and over the past 20 years, we have launched more new journals than any other publisher, all offering peer-reviewed, cutting-edge research,” adds Editorial Director Richard Steele. “We are proud to be working with David Guston and colleagues to create a lively forum in which to publish and debate research on responsible technological innovation.”

An emerging and interdisciplinary field

The term “responsible innovation” is often associated with emerging technologies—for example, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, geoengineering, and artificial intelligence—due to their uncertain but potentially revolutionary influence on society. [emphasis mine] Responsible innovation represents an attempt to think through the ethical and social complexities of these technologies before they become mainstream. And due to the broad impacts these technologies may have, responsible innovation often involves people working in a variety of roles in the innovation process.

Bearing this interdisciplinarity in mind, the Journal of Responsible Innovation (JRI) will publish not only traditional journal articles and research reports, but also reviews and perspectives on current political, technical, and cultural events. JRI will publish authors from the social sciences and the natural sciences, from ethics and engineering, and from law, design, business, and other fields. It especially hopes to see collaborations across these fields, as well.

“We want JRI to help organize a research network focused around complex societal questions,” Guston says. “Work in this area has tended to be scattered across many journals and disciplines. We’d like to bring those perspectives together and start sharing our research more effectively.”

Now accepting manuscripts

JRI is now soliciting submissions from scholars and practitioners interested in research questions and public issues related to responsible innovation. [emphasis mine] The journal seeks traditional research articles; perspectives or reviews containing opinion or critique of timely issues; and pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning responsible innovation. More information about the journal and the submission process can be found at

About The Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU

The Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU (CNS-ASU) is the world’s largest center on the societal aspects of nanotechnology. CNS-ASU develops programs that integrate academic and societal concerns in order to better understand how to govern new technologies, from their birth in the laboratory to their entrance into the mainstream.

About Taylor & Francis Group


Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life.  As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioural Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine.

From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.

You can find out more about the Journal of Responsible Innovation here, including information for would-be contributors,

JRI invites three kinds of written contributions: research articles of 6,000 to 10,000 words in length, inclusive of notes and references, that communicate original theoretical or empirical investigations; perspectives of approximately 2,000 words in length that communicate opinions, summaries, or reviews of timely issues, publications, cultural or social events, or other activities; and pedagogy, communicating in appropriate length experience in or studies of teaching, training, and learning related to responsible innovation in formal (e.g., classroom) and informal (e.g., museum) environments.

JRI is open to alternative styles or genres of writing beyond the traditional research paper or report, including creative or narrative nonfiction, dialogue, and first-person accounts, provided that scholarly completeness and integrity are retained.[emphases mine] As the journal’s online environment evolves, JRI intends to invite other kinds of contributions that could include photo-essays, videos, etc. [emphasis mine]

I like to check out the editorial board for these things (from the JRI’s Editorial board webpage; Note: Links have been removed),,


David. H. Guston , Arizona State University, USA

Associate Editors

Erik Fisher , Arizona State University, USA
Armin Grunwald , ITAS , Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany
Richard Owen , University of Exeter, UK
Tsjalling Swierstra , Maastricht University, the Netherlands
Simone van der Burg, University of Twente, the Netherlands

Editorial Board

Wiebe Bijker , University of Maastricht, the Netherlands
Francesca Cavallaro, Fundacion Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Spain
Heather Douglas , University of Waterloo, Canada
Weiwen Duan , Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China
Ulrike Felt, University of Vienna, Austria
Philippe Goujon , University of Namur, Belgium
Jonathan Hankins , Bassetti Foundation, Italy
Aharon Hauptman , University of Tel Aviv, Israel
Rachelle Hollander , National Academy of Engineering, USA
Maja Horst , University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Noela Invernizzi , Federal University of Parana, Brazil
Julian Kinderlerer , University of Cape Town, South Africa
Ralf Lindner , Frauenhofer Institut, Germany
Philip Macnaghten , Durham University, UK
Andrew Maynard , University of Michigan, USA
Carl Mitcham , Colorado School of Mines, USA
Sachin Chaturvedi , Research and Information System for Developing Countries, India
René von Schomberg, European Commission, Belgium
Doris Schroeder , University of Central Lancashire, UK
Kevin Urama , African Technology Policy Studies Network, Kenya
Frank Vanclay , University of Groningen, the Netherlands
Jeroen van den Hoven, Technical University, Delft, the Netherlands
Fern Wickson , Genok Center for Biosafety, Norway
Go Yoshizawa , Osaka University, Japan

Good luck to the publishers and to those of you who will be making submissions. As for anyone who may be as curious as I was about the connection between Routledge and Francis & Taylor, go here and scroll down about 75% of the page (briefly, Routledge is a brand).

2013 (5th annual) Canadian Science Policy Conference announces some new (for this year) initiatives

An Oct. 29, 2013  announcement highlights some of the speakers you can expect at the 2013 (5th annual) Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) being held in Toronto, Ontario from Nov. 20 – 22, 2013. The conference whose overarching theme is ScienceNext: Incubating Innovation and Ingenuity features (Note: I have bolded this year’s new initiatives),,

CSPC 2013 Welcomes Minister Rickford:
We are thrilled to announce that the Honourable Greg Rickford, [Canada’s] Minister of State (Science and Technology, and Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario) will speak at CSPC 2013, more details to follow. Be sure not to miss it, register now!

Are you the next Rick Mercer? Bill Nye?
CSPC presents its first ever humorous speech contest, Whose Science is it Anyway? Thursday, November 21st at 9pm. To enter, send your name, contact info and 2-3 lines about your story to Attractive prizes to be won! Deadline: 5pm, Friday, Nov. 15 (Finalists will be notified Monday, Nov. 18)

CSPC is now Accepting Donations:
We are quite pleased to announce that with the generous support from Ryerson University, CSPC can issue charitable tax receipts for donations. If you wish to donate please contact us or visit for more details.


• 600+ participants, 28 panel sessions, 150+ speakers including:

– Hon. Reza Moridi, MPP,Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation

– John Knubley, Deputy Minister, Industry Canada

– Robert Hardt, President and CEO, Siemens Canada Limited

– Wendy Cukier, Vice President of Research and Innovation, Ryerson University

– Pierre Meulien, President and CEO, Genome Canada

– Paul Young, Vice President Research, University of Toronto

More exciting names are being added to the Program.

Inauguration of the Awards of Excellence in Science Policy – a first in Canada

• 3 pre conference full day workshops/symposiums

– Science Policy Nuts and Bolts
– Science Diplomacy
– Communication of Science


• The Honourable Michael H. Wilson, Chairman, Barclays Capital Canada Inc. and Chancellor, University of Toronto

• Mandy Shapansky, President and Chief Executive Officer, Xerox Canada Ltd.


• Private Sector R&D and Innovation: New Realities and New Models

• Emerging Trends: Science & Technology in International Trade and Diplomacy

• Science and Technology Communication

• Graduate Studies and Research Training: Prospects in a Changing Environment

• Emerging Issues in Canadian Science Policy

A couple of comments. I notice that Member of Parliament (NDP) Kennedy Stewart,, the Official Opposition Critic for Science and Technology, and member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, is included as a feature speaker this year. Last year (2012), he held an impromptu, after official conference presentation hours sessions on science policy. Good to see that he’s been included in the official programme for 2013. Perhaps next year (2014) will see the Liberal critic for Science and Technology. Ted Hsu as a speaker.

Pierre Lapointe is another speaker whose name caught my attention as he is the President and Chief Executive Officer of FPInnovations, one of the partners behind CelluForce (the other partner is Domtar), the Canadian nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC, aka, cellulose nanocrystals, CNC) initiative. In my Oct. 3, 2013 posting,  I noted that CelluForce had stopped producing NCC as they had a stockpile of the product. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there’ll be any mention of the stockpile since Lapointe is on a panel organized by Genome Canada and titled: The complexity of driving the bio-economy: Genomics, Canada’s natural resources and private-public collaborations.

Visualizing how your online behaviour is being tracked—Emily Carr University’s (Canada) Lightbeam

Before you got too excited this visualization tool is an add-on for Mozilla’s Firefox. That said, this seems pretty nifty, from the Oct. 30, 2013 Emily Carr University news release (Note: A link was removed),

“Emily Carr University’s visualization research for Lightbeam enables users to understand their personal relationship to online tracking,” says Emily Carr’s Amber Frid-Jimenez, Associate Professor, Faculty of Design + Dynamic Media.  She continues: “Our visualizations for Lightbeam will contribute to increased transparency about how personal information is collected and propagated by third parties, a key issue of online privacy.”

Here’s what one of the visualizations looks like,

Hypothesis 1: Browsing History [downloaded from]

Hypothesis 1: Browsing History [downloaded from]

The design team has this to say about the visualization (from their Hypothesis 1 webpage),

hypothesis #1
The Clock design aims to engage people who aren’t currently interested in privacy issues. The tool allows people to explore their own personal internet browsing history in daily, weekly, monthly and more longterm views.

There are more details about the Lightbeam project and the research team, from the news release,

Emily Carr University Research announces the launch of Lightbeam, a new Add-on for the popular Firefox browser that enables users to visualize online data tracking in real time. Mozilla, the developer of Firefox, partnered with the University on a year-long research project to improve Lightbeam’s interactive visualizations. The Emily Carr University team was led by Associate Professor Amber Frid-Jimenez, who worked with student design researchers Sabrina Ng, Joakim Sundal and Heather Tsang and a group of developers at Mozilla, led by Dethe Elza, to develop the visualizations of of the tool which will shed light on the online collection of information by third parties. This research was supported by the Ford Foundation, the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Mozilla Foundation, and is a project of the Social + Interactive Media (SIM) Centre, headed by Kate Armstrong.

The research team focused on three key areas of the visualization:

  • Browsing history: to interest users in privacy issues with an interface that facilitates exploration of their past browsing history and the third party connections that have been involved in this data;
  • Deep dive into time: to provide experts, power-users and those already interested in privacy issues with an interface that explores their relationships with trackers, and their enabling Web sites, to reveal patterns in the near term or over larger anonymized, aggregated datasets in the future;
  • Metrics as widgets: to provide users with an interface that displays simple figures and browsing history in real-time as single numbers and visual graphs.

The Lightbeam visualizations demonstrate the forward-looking research in social and interactive design provided by Emily Carr University. The Lightbeam visualizations will be important to helping web users understand the role of third party data tracking that shapes so much of the web and make informed choices about their data collection practices.

For anyone who wants to see the press package, you can find everything including the news release and images here.

While Emily Carr University is well known locally, it should be said that it’s located in Vancouver, Canada and it’s official name is Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

OECD Science, Technology and Industry 2013 Scorecard: Canada highlights and key nanotechnology indicators*

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released its 2013 scorecard or, more officially, the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2013 (which you can find here). There’s a brief description of the 2013 scorecard on the webpage housing the complete report/scorecard and various publications derived from it,

Science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship – which foster competitiveness, productivity, and job creation – are important mechanisms for encouraging sustainable growth. The 260 indicators in the OECD Science, Technology and Industry (STI) Scoreboard 2013 show how OECD and partner economies are performing in a wide range of areas to help governments design more effective and efficient policies and monitor progress towards their desired goals.

The 2013 scorecard highlights concerning Canada are (from the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2013
: Canada publication),

Canada experienced a decline in business spending on R&D between 2001 and 2011, despite generous public support, mainly through tax incentives for business R&D. As a percentage of GDP, Canada’s tax incentives for R&D were the largest after France in 2011. [emphasis mine]
Despite relatively limited investment in R&D, a large share of Canada’s manufacturing and services firms are involved in innovation. Canada is among the group of countries where high-technology industries still dominate patenting activity, while in several other OECD countries business services now account for the largest share of patents. Canada lags somewhat in the proportion of young firms applying for patents, however.
 Canada achieves a relatively high impact with its scientific research. Compared with other large OECD economies, Canada has a very high rate of international mobility of researchers, mostly with the United States. Returning researchers and new inflows tend to publish in journals with higher quality than researchers that have not engaged in international mobility.
 Canada’s trade performance is characterised by a strong focus on primary products, which affects its positioning in global value chains. This contributes to a relatively low foreign (and thus a high domestic) value added content in Canada’s exports, which declined between 1995 and 2009. In 2009, over 26% of jobs in the business sector were sustained by demand from abroad, down from just over 30% in 1995.

So, despite some of the best tax incentives amongst OECD countries, business in Canada spent less on R&D as the decade wore on. Interesting. Especially so since the government, realizing there were problems of some kind, commissioned Tom Jenkins (Chairman, OpenText Corporation), along with a committee,, to examine the various government tax incentive programmes developed for business R&D. This resulted in what  is known as the Jenkins report (featured in my Oct. 21, 2011 posting) and changes, based on the recommendations, such as more incentives for partnerships between universities and businesses and a major change of focus (funds for science that will make money) for one of the granting agencies (mentioned in my May 22, 2013 posting). Given that Canada already had good incentives for business R&D before 2011, why did the government implement more incentives after the 2011 Jenkins report since it seems that the incentives might not be the problem. Here’s more about the situation prior to the changes stemming from the 2011 Jenkins report, from the OECD’s 2013 scorecard: Canada Highlights,

Canada is among the few OECD countries where R&D expenditure declined between 2000 and 2011 (Figure 1). This decline was mainly due to reduced business spending on R&D. It occurred despite relatively generous public support for business R&D, primarily through tax incentives. In 2011, Canada was amongst the OECD countries with the most generous tax support for R&D and the country with the largest share of government funding for business R&D being accounted for by tax credits (Figure 2). …

OECD and key nanotechnology indicators

At roughly the same time as the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard was released, there was this Oct. 25, 2013 news item on Nanowerk about an October 2013 update of the OECD’s key nanotechnology indicators (Note: A link has been removed),

The ‘Key Nanotechnology Indicators’ are produced by the OECD’s Directorate for Science Technology and Industry (DSTI) and recently have been updated in October 2013. These latest numbers are available as Excel spreadsheets and can be found here on the OECD DSTI page and include the following:
Nanotechnology firms
KNI 1 Number of firms active in nanotechnology, 2011 or latest available year
KNI 2 Percentage of small nanotechnology firms, 2011 or latest available year
Number of firms active in nanotechnology
Number of firms active in nanotechnology (OECD). (click image to enlarg

i have looked at some of the nanotechnology key indicator spreadsheets provided by the OECD and the only one of my admittedly small sample that lists Canadian performance was in the Share of countries in nanotechnology patents filed under PCT, 2008-10. Apparently Canada did not submit data about Number of firms active in nanotechnology, 2011 or latest available year or Nanotechnology R&D expenditures in the business sector, 2011 or latest available year.

*Added ‘Science’ to the head as in ‘… Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2013’ on May 29, 2014.

Nano-solutions for the 21st century, University of Oxford Martin School, and Eric Drexler

Eric Drexler (aka, K. Eric Drexler) is a big name in the world of nanotechnology as per my May 6, 2013 posting abut his talk in Seattle as part of a tour promoting his latest book,

Here’s more from the University Bookstore’s event page,

Eric Drexler is the founding father of nanotechnology, the science of engineering on a molecular level—and the science thats about to change the world. Already, says Drexler, author of Radical Abundance, scientists have constructed prototypes for circuit boards built of millions of precisely arranged atoms. This kind of atomic precision promises to change the way we make things (cleanly, inexpensively, and on a global scale), the way we buy things (solar arrays could cost no more than cardboard and aluminum foil, with laptops about the same)—and the very foundations of our economy and environment.

… Drexler’s latest effort, Radical Abundance, here’s what he had to say about the book in a July 21, 2011 posting on his Meta Modern blog,

Radical Abundance will integrate and extend several themes that I’ve touched on in Metamodern, but will go much further. The topics include:

  • The nature of science and engineering, and the prospects for a deep transformation in the material basis of civilization.
  • Why all of this is surprisingly understandable.
  • A personal narrative of the emergence of the molecular nanotechnology concept and the turbulent history of progress and politics that followed
  • The quiet rise of macromolecular nanotechnologies, their power, and the rapidly advancing state of the art
  • ….

About the same time he was promoting his book, Radical Abundance, the University of Oxford Martin School released a report written by Drexler and co-authored with Dennis Pamplin,, which is featured in an Oct. 28, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

The world faces unprecedented global challenges related to depleting natural resources, pollution, climate change, clean water, and poverty. These problems are directly linked to the physical characteristics of our current technology base for producing energy and material products. Deep and pervasive changes in this technology base can address these global problems at their most fundamental, physical level, by changing both the products and the means of production used by 21st century civilization. The key development is advanced, atomically precise manufacturing (APM).

This report (“Nano-solutions for the 21st century”; pdf) examines the potential for nanotechnology to enable deeply transformative production technologies that can be developed through a series of advances that build on current nanotechnology research.

Coincidentally or not, Eric Drexler is writing a series of posts for the Guardian about nanotechnology and the future. Here’s a sampling from his Oct. 28, 2013 post on the Guardian’s Small World Nanotech blog sponsored by NanOpinion,

In my initial post in this series, I asked, “What if nanotechnology could deliver on its original promise, not only new, useful, nanoscale products, but a new, transformative production technology able to displace industrial production technologies and bring radical improvements in production cost, scope, and resource efficiency?”

The potential implications are immense, not just for computer chips and other nanotechnologies, but for issues on the scale of global development and climate change. My first post outlined the nature of this technology, atomically precise manufacturing (APM), comparing it with today’s 3D printing and digital nanoelectronics.

My second post placed APM-level technologies in the context of today’s million-atom atomically precise fabrication technologies and outlined the direction of research, an open path, but by no means short, that leads to larger atomically precise structures, a growing range of product materials and a wider range of functional devices, culminating in the factory-in-a-box technologies of APM.

Together, these provided an introduction to the modern view of APM-level technologies. Here, I’d like to say a few words about the implications of APM-level technologies for human life and global society.

At the bottom of the posting, this is noted,

Eric Drexler, often called “the father of nanotechnology”, is at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, University of Oxford. His most recent book is Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization

The Oxford Martin School of Oxford University and the Research Center for Sustainable Development of the China Academy of Social Sciences recently released a report on atomically precise manufacturing, Nano-solutions for the 21st century. The report discusses the status and prospects for atomically precise manufacturing (APM) together with some of its implications for economic and international affairs.

Publicity is a beautiful thing, especially when you can tie so many things together. Drexler, his book, the report, and the Guardian’s special section sponsored by NanOpinion.

Getting back to the report, Nano-solutions for the 21st century, I notice that there’s been a lot of collaboration with Chinese researchers and institutions if the acknowledgements are a way to judge these things,

This work results from an extensive process that has included interaction and contributions by scientists,
governments, philanthropists, and forward-thinkers around the world. Over the last three years workshops
have been conducted in China, India, US, Europe, Japan, and more to discuss these findings and their
global implications. Draft findings have also been presented at many meetings, from UNFCCC events to
specialist conferences. The wealth of feedback received from this project has been of utmost importance
and we see the resulting report as a collaboration project than as the work of two individuals.

The authors wish to thank all those who have participated in the process and extend particular thanks
to China and India, especially Institute for Urban & Environmental Studies, Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences (CASS) and the team from the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST)
including Dr. ZHI Linjie, Dr. TANG Zhiyong, Dr. WEI Zhixiang and Dr. HAN Baohang. Professor Linjie Zhi
was also kind enough to translate the abstract. In India the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and CII – ITC Centre
of Excellence for Sustainable Development where among those providing valuable input.

This report is only a start of what we hope is a vital international discussion about one of the most
interesting fields of the 21st century. We would therefor like to extend special thanks to the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and The Oxford Martin School
that are examples of world leading institutions that support further discussions in this important area.

Dr. Eric Drexler and Dennis Pamlin worked together to make this report a reality. Drexler, currently at the
Oxford Martin School, provided technical leadership and served as primary author of the report. Pamlin
contributed through discussions, structure and input regarding overall trends in relation to the key aspects
of report. Both authors want to thank Dr. Stephanie Corchnoy who contributed to the research and final
editing. As always the sole responsibility for the content of report lies with the authors.

Eric Drexler
Dennis Pamlin (p. 1)

I find the specific call outs to China, India, and Japan quite interesting since any European partners are covered under the term for the entire continent, Europe. I haven’t read the report but for what it’s worth here’s the abstract,

The report has five sections:
1. Nanotechnology and global challenge
The first section discusses the basics of advanced, atomically precise nanotechnology and
explains how current and future solutions can help address global challenges. Key concepts
are presented and different kinds of nanotechnology are discussed and compared.
2. The birth of Nanotechnology
The second section discusses the development of nanotechnology, from the first vision
fifty years ago, expanding via a scientific approach to atomically precise manufacturing
thirty years ago, initial demonstrations of principle twenty years ago, to the last decade
of of accelerating success in developing key enabling technologies. The important role
of emerging countries is discussed, with China as a leading example, together with an
overview of the contrast between the promise and the results to date.
3. Delivery of transformative nanotechnologies
Here the different aspects of APM that are needed to enable breakthrough advances in
productive technologies are discussed. The necessary technology base can be developed
through a series of coordinated advances along strategically chosen lines of research.
4. Accelerating progress toward advanced nanotechnologies
This section discusses research initiatives that can enable and support advanced
nanotechnology, on paths leading to APM, including integrated cross-disciplinary research
and Identification of high-value applications and their requirements.
5. Possible next steps
The final section provides a short summary of the opportunities and the possibilities to
address institutional challenges of planning, resource allocation, evaluation, transparency,
and collaboration as nanotechnology moves into its next phase of development: nanosystems engineering.

The report in its entirety provides a comprehensive overview of the current global condition, as well as
notable opportunities and challenges. This content is divided into five independent sections that can
be read and understood individually, allowing those with specific interests to access desired information
more directly and easily. With all five sections taken together, the report as a whole describes low-
cost actions that can help solve critical problems, create opportunities, reduce security risks, and help
countries join and accelerate cooperative development of this global technological revolution. Of
particular importance, several considerations are highlighted that strongly favor a policy of transparent,
international, collaborative development.

One final comment, I’m not familiar with Drexler’s co-author, Dennis Pamlin so went searching for some details. Here’s a self-description from the About page on his eponymous website,

Dennis Pamlin is an entrepreneur and founder of 21st Century Frontiers. He works with companies, governments and NGOs as a strategic economic, technology and innovation advisor. His background is in engineering, industrial economy and marketing. Mr Pamlin worked as Global Policy Advisor for WWF from 1999 to 2009. During his tenure, Pamlin initiated WWFs Trade and Investment Programme work in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and led the work with companies (especially high-tech companies such as ICT) as solution providers.

Pamlin is currently an independent consultant as well as Director for the Low Carbon Leaders Project under the UN Global Compact and is a Senior Associate at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Current work includes work to establish a web platform to promote transformative mobile applications, creating the first Low Carbon City Development Index (LCCDI) make transformative low-carbon ICT part of the global climate discussions, leading the Global ICT companies work (through GeSI) to establish the ICT sector as a global solution provider when it comes to resource efficient solutions, advising the EU on how public procurement can increase innovation and the uptake of transformative solutions.

Pamlin is also exploring how new ideas can be financed through web-tools/apps and the cultural tensions between the “west” and the re-emerging economies (with focus on China and India).

He is also leading work to develop methodologies for companies and cities to measure and report their positive impacts, focus on climate, water and poverty, but other areas are also under development.

I also found this on Pamlin’s LinkedIn profile,

Entrepreneur, advisor and transformative explorer

International Affairs


21st century Frontiers,
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS),
Global Challenges Foundation



It seems to me there’s a ‘sustainability and nanotechnology theme being implied in the introduction to the report (“The world faces unprecedented global challenges related to depleting natural resources, pollution, climate change, clean water, and poverty.”)  and I’m certainly inferring it from my reading of Pamlin’s background and interests and this phrase in the acknowledgements: “… Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and CII – ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development where among those providing valuable input … .”

Oddly, I last mentioned nanotechnology and sustainability In an Oct. 28, 2013 posting about a nanotechnology-enabled consumer products database where I also made note of the Second Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization Conference whose website can be found here.

Nano info on food labels wanted by public in the US?

There’s some social science research about nanotechnology and food labeling in the US making its rounds on the internet. From an Oct. 28, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

New research from North Carolina State University and the University of Minnesota finds that people in the United States want labels on food products that use nanotechnology – whether the nanotechnology is in the food or is used in food packaging. The research (“Hungry for Information: Public Attitudes Toward Food Nanotechnology and Labeling”) also shows that many people are willing to pay more for the labeling.

Study participants were particularly supportive of labeling for products in which nanotechnology had been added to the food itself, though they were also in favor of labeling products in which nanotechnology had only been incorporated into the food packaging.

The Oct. 28, 2013 North Carolina State University (NCSU) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, has a title that can be viewed as misleading  especially in light of how other news media have interpreted it,

Public wants labels for food nanotech — and they’re willing to pay for it

Yes but it’s not exactly ‘the public’ (from the news release),

“We wanted to know whether people want nanotechnology in food to be labeled, and the vast majority of the participants in our study do,” says Dr. Jennifer Kuzma, senior author of a paper on the research and Goodnight-Glaxo Wellcome Distinguished Professor of Public Administration at NC State. “Our study is the first research in the U.S. to take an in-depth, focus group approach to understanding the public perception of nanotechnology in foods.” [emphasis mine]

The researchers convened six focus groups – three in Minnesota and three in North Carolina – and gave study participants some basic information about nanotechnology and its use in food products. Participants were then asked a series of questions addressing whether food nanotechnology should be labeled. Participants were also sent a follow-up survey within a week of their focus group meeting. [emphasis mine]

Since ‘focus group’ isn’t likely to grab attention in a headline whoever wrote the news release decided on a more dramatic approach citing the ‘public’ which resulted in this still more dramatic headline for an Oct. 29, 2013 news item on Red Orbit (Note: Links have been removed),

Most Americans Want To See Labels On Their Nanofoods

Americans overwhelmingly want to know when they are eating food products that use nanotechnology, and are happy to pay the additional labeling costs, according to a new study published this month in the journal Review of Policy Research.

“Our study is the first research in the United States to take an in-depth, focus group approach to understanding the public perception of nanotechnology in foods,” said Dr. Jennifer Kuzma of North Carolina State University, the study’ s senior author. [emphasis mine] “We wanted to know whether people want nanotechnology in food to be labeled, and the vast majority of the participants in our study do.”

Curious, I read the paper (which is open access),

Hungry for Information: Public Attitudes Toward Food Nanotechnology and Labeling by Jonathan Brown, University of Minnesota; Jennifer Kuzma, North Carolina State University. Published: Online Oct. 7 [2013] in Review of Policy Research DOI: 10.1111/ropr.12035

First off, this study is, by my standards, a well written piece of research. The writers have grounded their work in the literature,  explained their approach and methodology, and provided many appendices including one with the script used by the focus group moderators. Surprisingly, I’ve read more than one piece of ‘social science research’ which did not provide one or more of the previously mentioned aspects essential to a basic, solid research paper. In other words, there are a lot of sloppy social science research papers out there. Thankfully, this is not one of them. That said, I do have a comment about the paper’s title and a nit to pick regarding the methodology.

The paper’s title has a ‘look at me’ quality which has found its way into the news release and ultimately some of the headlines in various online publications (including this post). The paper’s title in the context of a publication called Review of Policy Research is less problematic due to its audience, i.e., policy wonks who are likely to discount the title as simply an attempt to get attention. The point is that the audience for Review of Policy Research is not likely to take that title at face value, i.e., uncritically. However, as this ‘look at me’ title is rewritten and makes its way through various media outlets, the audience changes to one that is much more likely to take it at face value.

Researchers are in a bind. They want attention for their work but can risk media coverage which distorts their findings. As for the level of distortion to be found, here’s information about the methodology and sample (participants), from the research paper,

Seven focus groups, 90 minutes in length and ranging in size from seven to ten participants, were conducted between September 2010 and January 2011 in the Minnesota cities of Minneapolis, Richfield, and Bloomington, and the North Carolina cities of Raleigh, Garner, and Cary. [emphasis mine’ Cities were selected based on the main city location, the largest suburb, and finally a randomly selected city between 30,000 and 60,000 residents, all within the counties of Hennepin, Minnesota, and Wake, North Carolina.

Participants were recruited using a stratified random sample, with the goal of having equal female and male numbers in each group, while matching a demographic county profile. Those who had a prior background in or extensive knowledge of nanotechnology were excluded from participation. The profiles were based on age, sex, race, education, family household income, and ideology (liberal, moderate, and conservative) criteria and generated by means of census data in conjunction with information supplied from select city community centers. Telephone and cell phone samples for each city were acquired and used to recruit 12 participants for each focus group, with the expectation of 75 percent attendance per group. Participants were given light dinner refreshments and $100 cash for their participation.

A total of 56 participants partook in one of the seven focus groups (n1 = 8, n2 = 10, n3 = 8, n4 = 7, n5 = 8, n6 = 7, and n7  = 8). The overall demographic distribution contained more males (64 percent, n = 36) versus females (36 percent, n = 20); whites/Caucasians (84 percent, n = 47) versus blacks/African Americans (11 percent, n = 6) and Asians/Pacific Islanders (4 percent, n = 2); and those with a postgraduate or professional degree (27 percent, n = 15) versus college graduate (23 percent, n = 13), some college (16 percent, n = 9), high school graduate (14 percent, n = 8), technical college graduate (7 percent, n = 4), some high school (5 percent, n = 3), some technical college (2 percent, n = 1), and “Other” education (2 percent, n = 1). Race/ethnicity and education had n = 1 and n = 2 “No Answer” responses, respectively. The most common age bracket was 50–60 (36 percent, n = 20) compared with “Over 60” (23 percent, n = 13), 41–49 (23 percent, n = 13), 31–39 (7 percent, n = 4), and “Under 30” (7 percent, n = 4). Additionally, two provided “No Answer” for their ages.

So, 56 people, at the most. from two different states are representing Americans. Under Study Limitations subhead, the researchers outline some of their own concerns regarding this research (from the paper),

Several limitations of our focus group study are worth noting. The small sample size (n = 56 for focus groups and worksheet responses; n = 34 for postsurvey) reduces inferential power for the quantitative worksheet and postsurvey results.  Additionally, a small sample size coupled with underrepresentation for multiple demographics (e.g., non-Caucasians, females, those under age 40, and so on) restricts generalizability of results, whether quantitative or qualitative. For focus groups, however, this is to be expected as the goal is in-depth and quality discussions that explore issues heretofore under-investigated. [all emphases mine]

The nature of focus group execution presents further challenges. For example, introverted individuals may not participate as readily, and this potential imbalance skews the discussion toward the extraverted participants’ ideas. A technique to mitigate this bias, which was employed by our moderators, is to directly ask quieter participants questions once a topic is generated. Although directed calling is effective at ensuring all views on a specific topic are eventually heard, more talkative participants nonetheless exert essential control as their initial contributions determine the topics to be covered. Extraverts will thus be overrepresented in the conversation flow.

Another challenge with employing focus groups relates to moderator-controlled variations. While one discussion guide (i.e., set of specific guiding questions) was used for all focus groups (see Appendix A), the moderator frequently had to ask various follow-up questions to maintain substantive dialog. Consequently, several impromptu questions stimulating important exchanges were not raised uniformly in all groups. Fortunately, such variability was not widely problematic, as all focus groups consisted of the same six phases with the same preliminary prompts. Below we present the results from our study that relate to food and nanotechnology products and their labeling.

The results from the research are suggestive but this work does not offer proof that Americans want nano information on their food labels and are will to pay more. However this research lays the groundwork for future queries as the researchers themselves note in their Discussion at the end of the paper,

This study is the first, to our knowledge, to concentrate on public attitudes toward nanofood labeling in the United States. As such, we took an exploratory and grounded theory approach to reveal insights that could be important for developing policies and programs. Focus group discussions, in-group response worksheets, and postsurvey results from this study begin to form a picture of what people view as important for nanofood governance and labeling more specifically. Future studies will be needed to further explore these results, as there were several limitations to this study including the small sample sizes for the postsurvey (n = 34) and focus groups (n = 56) in the context of applying inferential statistics, sample underrepresentation for some demographic variables, potential overrepresentation of extroverted opinions in focus group conversations, and intergroup moderator consistency (see also the “Study Limitations” section above). These limitations are often associated with focus group research.

The researchers also describe the various themes that emerged from the focus group discussions,

Labeling discussions activated numerous topics directly and indirectly related to nanofood product labeling. Skepticism and the influence of historical experiences were two themes that emerged in this study that have not been extensively covered in previous literature on public perception of nanotechnology. Participants were skeptical concerning actions, intentions, and promised outcomes, often without reference to particular organizations or their trust of them. In part, skepticism stemmed from historical experiences with other product domains like pesticides, nutritional and allergenicity labels, and prior food safety claims. Participants relied heavily on previous experiences related to nanofood labeling in order to form opinions on this new domain.

I encourage you to read the research yourself. As these things go, this study is quite readable. However, I do have one final nit to pick, household income. While the researchers used the data to develop their stratified, random sample, they don’t seem to have taken income into account when analyzing the results or considering problems in the methodology. It seems to me that household income might be a factor in how people feel about paying more for food labels that include nano information.

This is the second nanofood-themed post I’ve published recently, see my Oct. 23, 2013 posting for a report of a food and nano panel held at the Guardian’s (newspaper) offices in London, UK.

Fear of chemistry or chemistry of fear?

While there are some who quake at the thought of chemistry classes, there are those who use chemistry as a springboard for studying fear. To celebrate Hallowe’en and all things frightful, the American Chemical Society has produced a 4 min. 29 sec. video titled the Chemistry of Fear as part of its Bytesize Science podcast series,

If you go to the American Chemical Society webpage hosting Bytesize Science podcasts, you’ll find a video which features a videoabout a woman who has no fear.